As donations from an online fundraising campaign for the Humboldt Broncos surpass $11 million, people are thinking about where that money will go and how it can best be used to help the families of those killed in the April 6 bus crash, as well as rebuild the lives of those who were injured.
Although staff from GoFundMe — the crowdsourcing platform hosting the campaign — have been providing advice and guidance, it’s up to the Humboldt Broncos team management to distribute the donations.
Randy MacLean, vice-president of the Humboldt Broncos, told CBC News that as funerals for the 16 people killed in the crash are underway, everyone is still in the midst of grieving and hasn’t yet begun to process what the injured survivors and bereaved families will need.
The outpouring of support, which has generated more money than any other GoFundMe campaign in Canadian history, is “a great gift” to the victims of the tragedy, said Daryl Hatton, CEO of FundRazr, a Vancouver-based online fundraising platform. (FundRazr is a competitor to GoFundMe).
It also presents some “very complex and very emotional decisions” for the team, Hatton said.
‘Young guys’ badly injured
“You’ve got to balance a whole set of criteria of, ‘What is a life worth? What was the future income of this life worth? What’s it going to cost to have all of the different medical treatments done to support people?'” he said.
“These are some really young guys and some of them had the potential for a career in the NHL. Their future income that they may have lost, that their families maybe [were] starting to count on, has evaporated.”
Kenneth Feinberg, a U.S. lawyer who has advised organizers for large U.S. GoFundMe campaigns — including one for dozens of victims of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando — said the Broncos should distribute the money as quickly as possible.
“These programs are fashioned, and drafted and designed, and then within 60 to 90 days, get the money out, shut down the fund. Everybody try and move on as best you can after a tragedy,” Feinberg said in interview with CBC Radio’s Calgary Eyeopener.
Canadian law firm to help with fund distribution
Both Feinberg and Hatton said that the team administrators should get an adviser who the community supports to help them distribute the funds.
In an update posted on the GoFundMe page on Friday night, the Humboldt Broncos announced the team was getting that assistance from a western Canada law firm.
“In the coming weeks, we will make an announcement about the process to distribute the funds — know that we are working around the clock with our advisers to get the funds to our families as quickly as possible,” the post said.
“MLT Aikins LLP law firm has graciously agreed to support us pro bono as we bring together the right teams of professionals to help us work through the steps of distributing these funds. We appreciate your patience as this process takes time and thoughtful consideration.”
Feinberg said the campaign should stop raising money now that the campaign has far surpassed its original goal of $4 million.
But Hatton disagrees.
Even though it seems like a lot of money, he said, “you want to know that [the injured survivors] are going to be OK for the rest of their life. And right now it’s a big uncertainty. We don’t know exactly what the insurance will look like … we don’t even know what all the costs will be yet.”
The extent of the costs arising from a devastating accident can be difficult to imagine, said Kevin Rempel, a Toronto-based Paralympian sledge hockey player who knows first-hand what it’s like to live with a traumatic injury.
Paralympic sledge hockey player Kevin Rempel looks at the sledge hockey sticks he placed on the balcony of his Toronto condominium in memory of the Humboldt Broncos players, coaches and volunteers who were killed by the bus crash. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)
“I don’t even know where to begin,” he told CBC News.
Almost 12 years ago, Rempel suffered a spinal injury in a motocross accident. He was a partial paraplegic and his doctors told him he would likely never walk again.
After intensive rehab, he eventually did learn to walk, but still endures significant pain and is limited in how much activity he can do with his legs.
What care will athletes need?
As of Friday evening, 10 people from the Humboldt Broncos crash remained in hospital, with two in critical condition, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority. Little is known about their specific injuries, except that Ryan Straschnitzki,18 — is paralyzed from the chest down.
For some severe injuries, including paralysis and brain injuries, financial support could be required to pay for 24-hour care for basic living tasks such as dressing, bathing and eating, Rempel said.
But even if that level of care isn’t needed, he said, there are unexpected costs that begin right after leaving the hospital and continue through the recovery process — however long that is.
Humboldt Broncos defenceman Ryan Straschnitzki has said he wants to pursue sledge hockey after the bus crash left him paralyzed from the chest down. (Submitted by Tom Straschnitzki)
“Everything from … your medications, to if you need to use catheters, to a vehicle with hand controls to start driving yourself around again, to sending you back to school for re-education,” Rempel said.
If someone needs to use a wheelchair, “modifying your home” is an enormous expense, he said.
People often don’t think about the cost of psychological and emotional recovery, Rempel said.
“I worked with a psychologist for three or four years because you have that mental trauma,” he said. “Rebuilding your identity, rebuilding your life, like, ‘Who am I now? Like, am I going to find love again or a relationship? How can I get through school when I’m going through challenges with my body right now?”
“Those ongoing costs will live on for a while,” he said.
Because the deaths and injuries resulted from a road accident in Saskatchewan, many costs will be covered by SGI, the province’s public insurance program.
“We do have a very comprehensive no-fault program,” said SGI president Andrew Cartmell. “I think it’s one of the best in the country.”
Benefits available for people who are injured range from travel and accommodation costs for families visiting their loved ones in hospital to long-term rehabilitation and “trying to get the person back to … their previous standard of living,” he said.
The no-fault system helps eliminate delays in insurance payments while investigators determine the cause of vehicle crashes, Cartmell said.
“We don’t care about who’s at fault in the accident. We care about rehabilitating and care right away and that’s we’re able to do.”
Families getting help with funeral costs
Saskatchewan insurance also covers funeral costs up to about $10,000, plus additional death benefits, including grief counselling.
Although Cartmell could not confirm whether any insurance money had been provided to cover the funerals already underway for those who died in the crash, MacLean — the Broncos vice-president — said no families have to front those expenses out of pocket.
Hockey Canada’s insurance program also covers the Humboldt Broncos players, coaches and staff, spokesperson Lisa Dornan told CBC News in an email.
Dornan said crisis management staff from both Hockey Canada and insurance provider AIG were on-site in Humboldt “to help facilitate paperwork, phone calls, funeral arrangements, the provision of hospital records, travel arrangements in certain circumstances, guarantees to funeral homes, etc. — essentially, any task that can support and assist the families and team in facilitating the claims process.”
Both SGI and Hockey Canada said that money received by survivors and family members from fundraising campaigns would not affect their insurance benefits.